+972’s Ami Kaufman writes that he found “particularly heart-warming” the flashmob in Beit Shemesh, noting that it shows the ultra-Orthodox “who wears the pants in this town.” I’m guessing it’s obvious who wears the pants: the woman in the middle front row. I cannot identify her, but I think it is safe to guess that is the choreographer herself, since everyone is looking at her. And somewhere in there is Miri Shalem, the organizer. It is also worth noting that she has organized women-only “disco nights” (as reported in Hebrew by Ma’ariv/NRG in 2004) in neighboring Ramat Beit Shemesh (RBS), not to be confused with its more religiously-observant namesake town, Beit Shemesh.
And yes, while it’s cute to see these women cutting-lose … err, so to speak … I find the dance to be both antagonistic and counter-productive.
The Jerusalem Post, which covered the event, appeals to young, Jewish Orthodox-lite Anglos, many of whom immigrated in recent years to Israel and wanted to live in observant communities, as well as many non-observant politically center-of-right English-speakers. Its bread-and-butter is its English publication, unlike the widely popular and editorially left-of-center Haaretz newspaper, which has an English-language version available online and published in-print in conjunction with the International Herald Tribune but makes its biggest traction in Hebrew. The JPost (it’s shortened moniker) is the choice of publication for most people who support, endorse and promote the very policies that many +972 readers disavow. That’s a pretty blanket statement, I realize, but a near accurate one. And for those who don’t read it frequently, it is worth noting that it does nearly as much “Jewish” news as it does Israel-related news. That Jewish news is written with the audience in mind, and thus appeals to this Orthodox-light view of Judaism, Israel and the world. Its editorials, for example, have promoted strikes on Iran, alongside accusations of U.S. President Barack Obama’s disconnect from (and distrust by) American Jews. Many of the JPost’s writers wear knitted scull-caps/yarmulkes, themselves Orthodox-lite. One of the writers of this particular JPost article, Niv Elis, is himself an American Jew (though non-religious), who recently emigrated to Israel. So naturally this is the audience that they are targeting, and the message is clear: Israel – it’s still the place for you American Orthodox-light (or modern-Orthodox, as many call themselves) Jews to come.
But I want to make a distinction that was lost both in the JPost article and in Ami’s post on it. It is important to note that there is nothing religiously verboten (forbidden) about women dancing with other women. That’s why at Jewish weddings, one sees a mehitza (divide) separating the men and women during the dancing. That’s also why Shalem created the disco nights in RBS without much controversy. And that’s also why all across the country one can find special women-only sessions for Rikudey-am (Israeli folk dancing). They appeal to these very women. But why has no one spoken up about this reverse-segregation? Because these women — the same sort who are dancing in this flashmob video — support that. They segregate themselves, they promote separation when it suits them.
What really would have made a statement in Beit Shemesh would have been mixed-gender dancing in the square. That would have been genuinely provocative, though perhaps catastrophically confrontational and counter-productive (and thus, not a move I would have supported). But that would have really been a statement of defiance. But here is the irony: these women, who are happy to antagonize the ultra-Orthodox black-hat extremists (yes, extremists!) of Beit Shemesh, would themselves feel less comfortable (and perhaps equally unwelcoming) to a group of progressive and/or secular Jews coming and having a mixed-gender “flash mob” in the middle of their public square.
So yes, it’s easy to make someone else uneasy (especially when it is done in such a “heart-warming” way). But it’s harder to accept that unease for yourself. These women (and their husbands) should embrace Oliver Wendell Holmes’ view on freedom, namely that “the right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.” They should should become advocates against the segregation of women in a secular, progressive dialogue, rather than when it is convenient – and permitted – for them to do so.
Thus, I predict this video will do less good — i.e. bring about change — than it will bad, namely revealing these women’s hypocrisy.